Allen Pike 2014-04-01T01:19:28-07:00 Allen Pike Hashed out 2014-03-31T16:00:00-07:00 Allen Pike <p>People get pretty worked up when I tell them I muted &#8221;#&#8221; on Twitter to help me keep up with my stream. &#8220;You can&#8217;t do that! You&#8217;re a monster!&#8221; If you like that, you should try muting &#8221;@&#8221;.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' width='300' /> <p>Brent Simmons wrote a piece today about <a href=''>the power of Mark All as Read and evil of unread counts</a>. While I agree that you shouldn&#8217;t spend your life worrying about unread counts, I&#8217;m not fond of marking all as read. It&#8217;s important to be able to declare bankruptcy on Twitter or RSS, or even your email. However, each time you find the need to do that, it behooves you to prune your inputs and cut the noise.</p> <p>Information is like food. You want it, you need it, it&#8217;s wonderful. Consuming it makes you happy, to a degree. Too much though, and you&#8217;re going to get heart disease.</p> <h2 id='cue_the_mutiny'>Cue the mutiny</h2> <p>Over the last two years I&#8217;ve met and followed a lot of interesting people who tweet a lot, to the point that I can&#8217;t quite keep up with what&#8217;s going by. There are three solutions to this:</p> <ol> <li>Unfollow people with below-average signal/noise ratio</li> <li>Only read a random subset of my tweets (the &#8220;scroll to top&#8221; approach)</li> <li>Mute tweets with below-average signal/noise ratio</li> </ol> <p>I&#8217;m not interested in reading a random subset of my tweets just based on what time I happen to be reading them. Reading semi-random content instead of the best content seems crazy to me.</p> <p>With this in mind, I built <a href=''>a tool to unfollow noisy people</a>, which really does help. Unfortunately, it&#8217;s heavily gated by Twitter&#8217;s new API restrictions so it gets a fairly narrow slice of my timeline. I also actually like the tweets of the high-volume people I still follow, I&#8217;d just prefer there to be less of them.</p> <p>So, on came the mute filters. If your Twitter client doesn&#8217;t support mute filters, check out <a href=''>Tweetbot</a>. (Twitterrific has a related feature called muffling which is very cool but isn&#8217;t as flexible unfortunately.) Justin Williams maintains <a href=''>a nice list of Tweetbot mute filters</a> for a wide range of noise, but two months ago I threw down a very simple mute: &#8221;#&#8221;.</p> <p>Hashtags are inhuman, they&#8217;re noisy, and they make your timeline harder to skim. They draw your eye to giant pieces of punctuation and irrelevant highlighting. Hating on them is <a href=''>not even remotely new</a>, but a lot of well-meaning people still crap up their writing with them.</p> <p>Whether you are bothered by hashtags or not, for any mute the question to ask is the same: are tweets that match the filter lower quality than average? If so, muting them will increase the quality of your Twitter stream. Higher quality and lower volume means less bankruptcy and a better use of your time.</p> <p>My # mute cut out less than 5% of my stream, but it was liberating. In one fell swoop, I improved the signal to noise ratio of the feed, I was spending less time on keeping up, and I didn&#8217;t need to unfollow anybody who I wanted to keep up with. After a few weeks of this, I was convinced it was the right move. One busy day this month, drunk with power, I went a little further.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' width='300' /> <p>I muted &#8221;@&#8221;.</p> <p>And then, tranquility. I had intended to just mute @ for the day, but I screwed up and didn&#8217;t put a time limit on the rule. Twitter&#8217;s roar of debates, promotions, and one-upmanship turned into a serene flow of one-liners and insightful links. Most of the tweets I saw were from people who, from a Social Media Consultant&#8217;s playbook, were doing Twitter wrong. They were just writing what they thought, with no embellishments or weird punctuation. It was downright peaceful.</p> <p>It was too peaceful. For every dumb argument, I missed two insightful comments. For every friend flogging <a href=''>his fricken video game podcast</a>, I missed three interesting launches or announcements. After a few days of a bizarrely quiet Twitter, I clued in that the @ filter was stuck on. When I removed it, real human conversation flooded back into my stream. My heart grew three sizes that day, and I started to re-evaluate muting #.</p> <h2 id='missing_out'>Missing out</h2> <p>If you mute hashtags, what do you miss out on, really? You definitely miss some tweets from people with an axe to grind.</p> <blockquote> <p>Another FUCKING donut shop closure in Brooklyn #savethedonuts #why</p> </blockquote> <p>You also miss some tweets from people who have a well-intentioned but ill-fated thing to promote.</p> <blockquote> <p>If you care about the viability of #bitcoin, you MUST read this thinkpiece and take action now</p> </blockquote> <p>And mercifully you miss some of the many tweets about conferences you&#8217;re not at.</p> <blockquote> <p>why am i still going to this conference #sxsw #killme</p> </blockquote> <p>At the same time, you&#8217;ll miss out on some good stuff, and not just jokes. By sheer luck I stumbled across <a href=''>this tweet from Neven Mrgan that had been muted</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>Our game is almost done, and I&#8217;ll likely be tweeting about it more. Would it be helpful or annoying if I used the hashtag #spaceage?</p> </blockquote> <p>Not only would I potentially miss out on info about Neven&#8217;s <a href=''>upcoming game</a>, but I wouldn&#8217;t have even seen his question about hashtags due to my filter. That was the beginning of the end for my indiscriminate muting of #.</p> <p>Today, I moved to a more moderate set of filtering punctuation:</p> <ol> <li>Mute three or more @s in a tweet</li> <li>Mute two or more #s in a tweet</li> <li>Mute tweets starting with .@</li> </ol> <p>Together, these give me most of what I want - a timeline with less noise. Still, although the extreme experiment failed for me, I encourage you to try it. Mute # or @ for a week. Mute &#8220;http://&#8221;. Mute Instagram. Cut your stream down to the minimum possible, without killing what you love about it.</p> <p>Then, get back to work.</p> Up Up Down Down 2014-02-28T01:00:00-08:00 Allen Pike <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' width='200' /> <p>In November, my co-founder Nigel and I started planning an app to help record podcasts. Before we could do it right, we needed to do two things first: <a href=''>investigate the podcasting industry</a>, and start <a href=''>a show of our own</a>. Before we could start a show, we needed a format.</p> <h2 id='formatting'>Formatting&#8230;</h2> <p><a href=''>A wise man</a> once told me about podcast formats, &#8220;Whatever you do, don&#8217;t make it two guys talking about tech news.&#8221; Luckily, there&#8217;s something I enjoy discussing with Nigel about more than tech news, and that&#8217;s the games industry.</p> <p>We&#8217;ve both made video games, which has given us a critical view of how they are designed, developed, and sold. Our lunchtime debates about what&#8217;s wrong with modern stealth gameplay are legendary. I&#8217;m intensely interested in what makes a game good or bad, the market forces that conspire against great games, and the recent explosion in games&#8217; artistic merit.</p> <p>With this theme in hand, we pulled our favourite elements from shows we love like <a href=''>Hypercritical</a>, <a href=''>Unprofessional</a>, and <a href=''>ATP</a> into a format we really like. We know plenty of game and app developers that have war stories to tell, so we picked some topics and started recording.</p> <h2 id='editor_hell'>Editor Hell</h2> <img style='max-width: 100%' alt='I really have no idea.' src='' width='200' /> <p>Planning and recording the shows is hard work, but it&#8217;s not nearly as exacting as editing. I had never really edited audio before, but I&#8217;d assumed the internet would have helpful tutorials on how edit a high-quality podcast with Logic. Incredibly, the most insightful thing I found was an article by Jason Snell about <a href=''>how Garageband could be better for editing podcasts</a>. I&#8217;d love to see something written by Jason or perhaps Marco on how a podcaster can get started with Logic, but I may need to fill that gap myself.</p> <p>Overall, the entire process of getting the show together was way more pain than it should have been. It&#8217;s insane that the best known approach is to use Skype, Audio Hijack, Garageband, Dropbox, Logic, LAME, Levelator, and ID3 Editor to produce a single mp3 file. The gaps between these tools are cracks where quality slips through. We haven&#8217;t solved that puzzle yet, but I definitely disagree with Marco&#8217;s sentiment that <a href=''>this stuff being hard is a good thing for listeners</a>. The tools need to get better.</p> <h3 id='here_be_dragons'>Here be Dragons</h3> <p>Once I got the hang of Logic, all we needed was a theme song. For a video game themed show I couldn&#8217;t imagine a better artist than <a href=''>I Fight Dragons</a>, by far the best 8-bit rock band of all time. Their lead singer/songwriter Brian was happy to give me his personal blessing to use their music, but he couldn&#8217;t technically give a legal one since they&#8217;ve left their label. I was conflicted &#8211; I wanted to feature their music, but I didn&#8217;t want an automated takedown notice years from now because some cranky bot found our theme song in its database.</p> <p>In a stroke of digital destiny, I stumbled upon the crazy story of <a href=''>the I Fight Dragons song that never shipped</a>. Not only is it a great track with an interesting origin story, the band generously made it available on SoundCloud in a vocals-free version I could drop into the show.</p> <h2 id='pressing_start'>Pressing Start</h2> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' width='200' /> <p>After two months in production, we launched <a href=''>Up Up Down Down</a> last week. So far we&#8217;ve received a lot of positive feedback, some helpful audio quality tips, and a single <a href=''>review on iTunes</a>. We originally planned on doing ten episodes, but our list of guests is looking really good. Perhaps we might not be able to stop at ten.</p> Elizabeth and Samantha 2014-01-30T01:00:00-08:00 Allen Pike <p><em>This piece contains light spoilers for the recent film</em> Her.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' width='200' /> <p>In Spike Jonze&#8217;s <em>Her</em>, the first ever artificially intelligent operating system is released. Samantha is, essentially, a version of Siri that is almost indistiguishable from a real person. Before long, people around the world fall in love with their Samanthas. It sounds strange at first to call your connection with a computer program &#8220;love&#8221;, but over time society gets used to the idea. These AIs express thoughts and feelings as nuanced and engaging as humans&#8217;, with the added bonus that they&#8217;re hyperintelligent and joyfully learning about the world we&#8217;ve grown to take for granted.</p> <p>As of yet, we&#8217;re a long way from developing a Samantha. For a painful demonstration of just how far we are, try and have a thoughtful conversation with Siri. Ask her something meaningful. Tell her a joke. <img style='max-width: 100%' alt='What does a baby computer call its father? Data.' src='' style='width: 200px; margin-top: 1em' title='What does a baby computer call its father? Data.' /> Perhaps it says something about me, but when I first tried Siri, I really wanted to have a thoughtful conversation with her. I wanted to connect, to treat her like a friend. All she could do is offer me the results of a web search.</p> <p>Siri and Samantha&#8217;s job of learning about your world makes them very helpful. Unfortunately, is also makes them very hard to get right. You know your own world intensely well, setting an incredibly high bar for any AI who seeks to understand it. We&#8217;re many years out from connecting meaningfully with AIs in our world.</p> <p>On the other hand, if we visit their world, things get more interesting.</p> <h2 id='a_visit_to_columbia'>A visit to Columbia</h2> <p>This past summer I explored the colourful, steampunky world of <a href=''>Bioshock Infinite</a>. Throughout the game you are accompanied by Elizabeth, the first video game companion, arguably, that has felt real. Her moods are infectious, her actions are believable, and she is genuinely helpful to have around. Thanks to countless hours of scripting and level design, she comes alive.</p> <p>As you&#8217;d expect from an in-game companion, we spent many hours together. I saved her life, she saved mine. More importantly, she kept me company, provided insight, and made me laugh. We had played a song together of all things. I was glad to have her around.</p> <img style='max-width: 100%' src='' /> <p>Anyway, most of the way through the game, a very strange encounter unfolded in front of me with the oddest of characters, the Lutece twins. The moment I looked away they disappeared, and I was left to puzzle over what the hell I had just seen and heard.</p> <p>As a matter of course, I turned to look back at Elizabeth. I suppose I wanted a sanity check. It&#8217;s ridiculous, but I was looking to her for validation of this bizarre experience we&#8217;d just shared. This is silly thing to do to a computer-controlled avatar, I admit.</p> <p>Neverthless, I did look back to gauge her reaction, and she was looking back at me. Her face said exactly the same thing that mine did: &#8220;What the fuck was that?&#8221; I felt a beat of the exact commiseration I&#8217;d sought - acknowledgement of our shared experience. I laughed with her.</p> <p>The next moment, I was struck by the sheer craziness of what I&#8217;d just done. I had emotionally connected with a Lua script.</p> <h2 id='from_elizabeth_to_samantha'>From Elizabeth to Samantha</h2> <p>Now, Elizabeth is not a even an AI by many definitions. She&#8217;s not nearly as sophisticated as Samantha, as flexible as <a href=''>Cleverbot</a>, or even as knowledgeable as Siri. She&#8217;s a set of scripts, and that in that moment in that game, she will always have that expression, keyed to a table of emotions available to her avatar. But to me, for that moment, she made me feel validated and safe.</p> <p>Of course, emotionally connecting with fictional characters is not new. We feel pain when somebody we like dies in a film or television show. What&#8217;s new is that the relationships we can now have through games can transcend the relationships we could have with characters on other screens. They&#8217;re not complicated relationships yet, but the path from Elizabeth to Samantha will be incremental.</p> <a href=''><img style='max-width: 100%' src='' width='200' /></a> <p>A relationship doesn&#8217;t need to be complicated or even dynamic for us to form a strong emotional bond. We feel love when a kitten climbs into our lap, even if she really just likes the warmth. Hell, look at Potal&#8217;s Companion Cube. It&#8217;s an inanimate object, but you <strong>want</strong> to like the Companion Cube. You care about it. Our brains are wired for that.</p> <p>The world is going to get very strange over our lifetimes. Games, and what evolves out of them, are going to challenge us socially and culturally well before they get to the sophistication of <em>Her</em>. Computer programs that incite love aren&#8217;t going to be suddenly foisted upon the world one day. Rather, they will slowly invade our lives year by year until we won&#8217;t remember what life was like without them. It might be great, and it might be hard. Either way, it will be interesting.</p>